Ohio Pushes Toward Ban the Box Initiative

House Bill 56, introduced by Reps. Kirk Schuring, R-Westlake, and Steven Slesnick, D-Canton, in February, seeks to give more Ohioans with a criminal history a chance by prohibiting government entities from having the infamous criminal background box on job applications. The state bill has had three hearings in the House’s Commerce and Labor Committee, and pending a revision by the joint sponsors, will likely to have a fourth hearing and a simple majority by the committee before it could be considered for full House vote.

Katrina Wilson, CEO and president, of the Middletown-based nonprofit Freedom Community Development Corporation, says the box “disenfranchises” those former convicts from the community and thus “increases the chance of recidivism.” Wilson, who has worked with ex-offenders to reintegrate them into society, said one in six, or 16.7 percent, of job seekers have a criminal record, but by penalizing these men and women who have paid their societal debt is adding time to their sentence and not allowing them to “take a step in the right direction.”

“We’re asking them to look at the qualifications instead of the mistakes that they made,” she said.

Wills said while in school, employers had spoken to one of his classes and he indicated they do not consider applications with that box checked. Though he knows it’s a reality in trying to find a job, Wills said, “It’s unfair.”

Sixteen states and 110 cities and counties across the country have adopted fair hiring policies, which the initiative is colloquially called ban the box, referring to the box on the application. Several cities and counties across Ohio, including the cities of Cincinnati and Dayton, and Cuyahoga and Hamilton counties, have adopted fair hiring policies. These only apply to government jobs within the jurisdiction, and on June 1 anyone applying for a state of Ohio job will not be asked that question.

Ohio Department of Administrative Services has implemented a new policy for the Ohio Civil Service application where applicants will not have to disclose if they have a felony conviction, said Director Robert Blair.

“This policy helps ensure that the presence of a criminal conviction no longer serves as a blanket exclusion from state employment for certain positions,” Blair said.

None of these policies mean applicants, when called for an interview, won’t be asked about their criminal history. But Blair said at that point, “they will have an opportunity to explain their past offense and how they have been rehabilitated.”

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